In Memory Of The Swamp: Hamptons Pride Launches With Tea-Dance Party

Hamptons Pride President Tom House at Wainscott Green, the old stomping grounds of The Swamp.

Every afternoon on his way home to Springs, Tom House drives past Wainscott Green — a peaceful, grassy park that wasn’t always as such.

He would know, he said, considering he transformed alongside it.

Now an English teacher at Bridgehampton School, Mr. House worked every summer weekend for 20 years on that swath of land — as a bartender during its former life as The Swamp, an iconic gay nightclub started by Bill Higgins in 1976 that, today, lives on only in memory.

But he wants to change that.

“I was like, ‘Something’s gotta be there,’” Mr. House said, referring to Wainscott Green. “And there will be now. It’s really just a matter of time.”

With the recent establishment of Hamptons Pride — the first-ever East End organization devoted exclusively to LGBTQ+ pride — its founding goal is to create a historical marker and social gathering place on the footprint of The Swamp, explained Mr. House, who serves as the non-profit’s president.

“I would love it to be just beautiful — like, world-class beautiful. Why not?” he said. “This is the Hamptons, where there’s so many talented people and people who give, so why can’t we make something really beautiful where the club used to be? It’s just this incredible opportunity.”

So far, the initiative has raised over $30,000 — and Mr. House only expects that number to rise with a kickoff tea-dance party for Hamptons Pride on Sunday at the Wainscott Green.

“It’s very personal to me,” he said, “but I know that it’s important to many others that there be something again. There’s a long history there. That spot is sacred in its way.”

In 1988, Mr. House was fresh out of college with very little bartending experience when he got thrown behind The Swamp club bar for the first time on a packed Saturday night. It was sink or swim, he said.

“Bill Higgins was right there next to me on this busy night and I remember that I grabbed a bottle and I grabbed a soda gun at the same time to fill a drink, and he was like, ‘Two hands, good!’” Mr. House recalled with a laugh. “And I had no idea what I was doing, but it was just instinct.”

He sighed fondly at the memory. “I guess I swam,” he said. “It was very intense at the time.”

The black-box, circa-1970s disco — complete with chrome railings and smoked mirrors — was an emblem of its time. Together with a barn-like bar and restaurant called The Annex and the courtyard that connected them, they formed a complex, surrounded by tall trees and a high fence that guarded them from homophobic stares of that era.

Even after Mr. Higgins died in 1990 from AIDS, The Swamp continued on as the heart of gay life on the East End — not to mention the last and longest-running gay club in the Hamptons until it closed in the early 2000s. For one year, it ran as SWA, followed by the “decidedly straight” Star Room, Mr. House recalled.

With a completely new identity, and culture, The Swamp was no more.

“I worked for the Star Room, too — they closed in 2007, that’s when I had my 20 summers reunion party,” Mr. House said. “I asked if it could be a gay night and they said yes. The place was packed. There were over 600 people at the reunion party. It had been straight for five, six years at that point, and people just wanted to come back.”

They’ll come back this weekend, too — 140 of them, anyway, for the Hamptons Pride launch, Mr. House said of the limited-ticket event, which will be held from 3 to 7 p.m. on the green. An afterparty at the Clubhouse in East Hampton will follow from 9 p.m. to midnight, featuring a performance by Naomi the Crown Jewel of the Hamptons.

Proof of vaccination, or a recent negative COVID-19 test, is required to attend either event, and Pride-theme masks will be available for those who wish to wear them.

All ticket sales will benefit the historical marker effort and future Hamptons Pride programs and activities, as well as the organization’s education component — which will start with a Genders and Sexualities Alliance at Bridgehampton School, Mr. House said.

“I see so many people connecting already just with the focus on this launch. I can see some things that are starting to form new, or come back together,” he said. “I’m hoping it will be a richer life for LGBTQ+ out on the East End. That’s my ultimate vision.”

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